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Daily Mail prints third correction to its energy bills coverage

  • 19 Dec 2011, 11:00
  • Christian Hunt

Today's copy of the Daily Mail is carrying another correction to their coverage of energy bills - specifically the cost of green policies and their impact on consumers. It reads:

Recent editorials referring to a leaked Government memo suggested that scapping 'green taxes' would save households 30% - or £300 - on their current energy bills. In fact the memo, which was reported by several newpapers, was outlining estimates for 2020 and should have specified electricity prices rather than energy bills.

This is the third time I have complained to the PCC about the Mail group's use of inaccurate figures to inflate the costs of green policies to consumers, and the third time they have printed a correction. Details of the two previous corrections which the Mail has printed following these PCC complaints are here and here.

This particular correction follows two editorials printed by the Mail in September, both of which stated that 'green taxes and subsidies' were currently adding £300 to consumers energy bills. The first read:

"First, the millionaire Cabinet minister Chris Huhne blames the public for the crippling size of energy bills - arguing people could save £300 each if they weren't too lazy to switch supplier. He conveniently forgets that £300 is the exact sum added to gas and electric bills by 'green taxes' and subsidies to pay for landscape-destroying wind farms..."

The second stated -

"If [Chris Huhne] scrapped green taxes, he would save every household some £300 at a stroke. Mr Huhne claims he wants the 'best possible deal for consumers'. What better way to prove it?"

The source for these claims turned out to be a leaked government memo which prompted a front-page story in the Telegraph at the beginning of September.

The memo as it was printed in the Telegraph was itself confused. It stated both that government policies will add around 30% to the price of electricity for a typical household by 2020, and that government policies will add 30% to domestic energy bills by 2020. These are two quite different things, so it didn't make much sense.

However, at no point did the memo suggest that there would be a 30% hike in current energy bills (equivalent to £300) - that was the Mail's interpretation.

In fact (as the Daily Mail had previously recognised), Ofgem suggest that, currently, 'environmental and social costs' make up about £100, or 7% of an average domestic energy bill. DECC put the figure at around £89.

It is generally accepted that the leaked memo should have referred to electricity prices in 2020, and not energy bills. This was recognised in a correction by the Guardian, but not the Telegraph.

Since these editorials appeared in September, DECC have released an updated version of their analysis. As expected, they suggest that green policies will add approximately 27% to electricity prices by 2020. Once the impact on gas bills is factored in as well, overall DECC suggest that green policies will add £280 (about 20%) to energy bills - but reduce them by £373 as energy efficiency measures reduce overall consumption. Hence their updated analysis now suggests that 'green' polices will lead to an average bill £94 lower than it would have been in 2020.

Of course, government figures may be right or wrong - estimating future energy bills is by no means an exact science. But the Mail's habit of reporting the estimated increase, whilst making no reference at all to the possible decrease, doesn't make a lot of sense either - as it implies that energy efficiency measures will have no impact at all on bills. At least, if the Mail find the government's projected price rises persuasive, or convenient to report, they should explain why they don't find the other side of the analysis equally so.

The articles in question were also amended online last month. I am grateful to the Mail for recognising that their reporting was in error and agreeing to correct it.

It also appears that their editorial line - the Mail have taken an unrelentingly negative stance on the issue of environmental costs on energy bills - is somewhat out of step with public opinion. Polling for the Sunday Times suggests that 60% of people in the UK think it is right 'to subsidise wind farms to encourage more use of wind power', compared to 26% who think it is not.

In response to the question

Thinking about the country's future energy provision, do you think the government should be looking to use more or less of the following?

74% said 'More than at present' for solar power, compared to 6% for 'Less than at present', and 56% said they wanted more wind power, compared to 19% who wanted less. Despite the caveats that come with interpreting polling, it appears the Mail is pursuing a campaign on this issue that has failed to inspire significant support from the public.

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